Famous Clarinet Players of All Time


Famous Clarinet Players
24 Jun, 2024


The clarinet, renowned for its rich, velvety tones and remarkable versatility, has captivated audiences across centuries. From the vibrant streets of New Orleans to the prestigious concert halls of Europe, this instrument has left an indelible mark on a multitude of musical genres.

Over the ages, some artists have used the clarinet in their work and captivated audiences. Let’s delve into this harmonious journey and uncover more about the famous clarinet players.

10 Famous Clarinet Players

1: Artie Shaw

Artie Shaw
An image credit example from a Britannica

Date of birth: May 23, 1910, New York

Date of death: December 30, 2004, Newbury Park, California

Best works:

  • Stardust
  • Moonglow
  • Nightmare
  • Dancing in the Dark

Arthur Jacob Arshawsky, known as Artie Shaw, was an American clarinetist, composer, band leader, and actor. Celebrated as one of jazz’s finest clarinetists, Shaw led one of the most popular big bands in the United States from the late 1930s to the early 1940s.

Shaw began his career as a session musician in New York in the early 1930s. Over four decades, he became renowned for his distinctive blend of swing, jazz, and big band music. His most notable hit was the 1938 recording of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”.

After retiring from music in 1954, Shaw also pursued various interests, including farming, theater production, and writing.

2: Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman
An image credit example from a Britannica

Date of birth: May 30, 1909, Chicago

Date of death: June 13, 1986, New York City

Best works:

  • Sing, Sing, Sing (1949)
  • Why Don’t You Do It Right? (1943)
  • Tea for Two (1938)
  • All the Cats Join in (1946)

Benjamin David Goodman was a jazz musician and band leader who was recognized as a 20th-century clarinet virtuoso. Known as the “King of Swing,” Goodman led one of the most popular swing big bands in the United States from 1936 until the mid-1940s.

Goodman’s concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City on January 16, 1938, is often hailed as “the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz’s ‘coming out’ party to the world of ‘respectable’ music.”

During an era of racial discrimination, Goodman shined as one of the most famous clarinet players of all time. He continued performing until the end of his life while pursuing an interest in classical music.

3: Martin Fröst

Martin Fröst
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Date of birth: December 14, 1970, Uppsala, Sweden

Best works:

  • Penderecki (1994)
  • French Beauties and Swedish Beasts (1994)
  • Close Up (1997)
  • Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622 (1997)

Martin Fröst secures his place as one of the most distinguished instrumental soloists. Frost is the first clarinetist awarded the Léonie Sonning Music Prize, one of classical music’s highest honors.

Throughout his career, Fröst has performed with many leading orchestras worldwide, including the New York Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, and Orchestre de Paris.

Moreover, he was appointed principal conductor of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra in 2019. Fröst is also known for his innovative multimedia projects that combine music, choreography, and light design.

4: Sabine Meyer

Sabine Meyer
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Date of birth: March 30, 1959, Crailsheim, Germany

Best works:

  • Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A Major, K. 622
  • Première Rhapsodie
  • Carnival of Venice
  • A Night at the Opera (1996)

Sabine Meyer is a renowned German classical clarinetist. She began her career with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra before joining the Berlin Philharmonic, where she became one of the first female members of the orchestra.

Her appointment caused controversy, and after a probation period, her fellow orchestra musicians voted her out. Soon, however, she was expelled due to her gender. Despite this setback, Meyer left the orchestra in 1983 to become a full-time solo clarinetist. By the 1990s, Meyer became a leading solo clarinetist, recording exclusively for the EMI label.

These recordings included a French music CD for Clarinet and Piano with Oleg Maisenberg, entitled “French Recital,” and a disc of clarinet concertos by Ludwig Spohr and Franz Kromme.

Her charismatic performances exhibited a rich and velvety tone, which further highlighted her impeccable command of techniques for effectively presenting the art.

5: Pete Fountain

Pete Fountain
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Date of birth: July 3, 1930, New Orleans, Louisiana

Date of death: August 6, 2016, New Orleans, Louisiana

Best works:

  • Closer Walk With Thee/Amazing Grace (1960)
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)
  • Gotta Travel On (1965)
  • Yes Indeed (1962)

Pierre Dewey LaFontaine Jr., professionally known as Pete Fountain, was an American jazz clarinetist. Apart from the clarinet, he was also versatile in playing drums and saxophone.

Fountain’s music career spanned over six decades and was revered as one of the greatest jazz clarinetists ever. He recorded over 100 albums and performed with several music legends such as Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong.

Fountain also played at various prestigious events, including the 1958 World’s Fair, the 2006 Rose Parade, and former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1960 inauguration.

He had the talent to blend traditional jazz with contemporary popular music, making his music resonate with modern generations, which ultimately made him one of the most famous clarinet players.

6: Robert Marcellus

Robert Marcellus
An image credit example from a ArtistInfo

Date of birth: June 1, 1928, Omaha, Nebraska,

Date of death: March 31, 1996, Evanston, Illinois

Best works:

  • Debussy Premiere Rhapsodie (1973)
  • Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico (1961)

Robert Marcellus was an American classical clarinetist and teacher. Marcellus’s professional career took off when he joined the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., in 1947.

Marcellus became the second clarinetist of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington in 1945. Later, he was promoted to first in 1950. Thereafter, in 1953, George Szell designated him principal clarinet in the Cleveland Orchestra. During his tenure at the Cleveland Institute of Music, he became the clarinet department head.

As a dedicated teacher who exhibited an unparalleled purity of tone, Marcellus inspired many clarinet players, including Larry Combs, Franklin Cohen, and Michael Webster.

Thus, at his death, he was a beloved, universally respected, and admired artist and pedagogue, cementing his rank amongst the most famous clarinet players of all time.

7: Hüsnü Şenlendirici

Hüsnü Şenlendirici
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Date of birth: July 12, 1976, Bergama, Turkiye

Best works:

  • Millionerche (2020)
  • I Love You (2011)
  • Sevda (2011)
  • Hatıran Yeter (2020)

Hüsnü Şenlendirici is a renowned Turkish musician of a Romani background. He comes from a family of clarinet players. His music has a unique blend of virtuoso technique, traditional Turkish music, and jazz, giving a fresh vision to the clarinet playlist.

Şenlendirici also founded the bands “Laço Tayfa” and “Hüsnü Şenlendirici & Saz Arkadaşları.” With these, he performed domestic and international concerts, participating in festivals like the Mayfest Festival and the International Istanbul Jazz Festival.

His solo albums, including “Hüsn-ü Klarnet” (2000) and “Hüsn-ü Hicaz” (2004), further established his reputation as a versatile and skilled musician.

8: Karl Leister

Karl Leister
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Date of birth: June 15, 1937, Wilhelmshaven, Germany

Best works:

  • Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K 622
  • Weber Quintet’s Last Movement
  • Mercadante’s ‘Clarinet Concerto in B-fla

Karl Leister is another renowned classical clarinetist remembered for his connection with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1959, Leister joined the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan’s guidance. This association lasted thirty years and was the most important and influential in Leister’s career. Soon, he became internationally recognized as a soloist and chamber musician.

Later in his career, he co-founded the Bläser der Berliner Philharmoniker (“Berlin Soloists”), which made a number of recordings.

In 1987, Leister was also named an honorary Royal Academy of Music London member. His charismatic ability to produce a warm, lush tone adds a heightened sensitivity to various musical styles.

9: Woody Herman

Woody Herman
An image credit example from a Blue Sounds

Date of birth: May 16, 1913, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Date of death: October 29, 1987, West Hollywood, California

Best works:

  • Woodchopper’s Ball (1939)
  • Four Brothers (1947)
  • Early Autumn (1948)
  • Caldonia (Live) (1994)

Woody Herman was an influential American jazz clarinetist, saxophonist, singer, and band leader whose career spanned over six decades.

Herman rose to prominence in the late 1930s and 1940s with his bands, known as the “Herds,” which made significant contributions to the big band era and jazz.

The First Herd, active in the mid-1940s, was particularly noted for its vibrant, progressive jazz sound. Herman continued to innovate with the Second Herd in the late 1940s, which was famous for its bebop influences and complex arrangements.

Cementing his place among the famous clarinet players, Herman’s unique tone and style made him one of the greatest musicians.

10: Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet
An image credit example from a Famous Composers

Date of birth: May 14, 1897, New Orleans, Louisiana

Date of death: May 14, 1959, Garches, France

Best works:

  • Petite Fleur (1959)
  • Premier Bal (1960)
  • Who’s Sorry Now 1961
  • Weary Blues 1979

Sidney Bechet was a pioneering American jazz clarinetist, saxophonist, and composer who became an international star, particularly revered in France. He was renowned for his virtuosity and distinctive vibrato.

Along with trumpeter Louis Armstrong, Bechet became one of the first musicians to popularize jazz. Bechet was known for his powerful, expressive playing and was a master of the clarinet and soprano saxophone.

Bechet helped shape early jazz and left an enduring legacy, for which he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1983.


Who is the most famous clarinet player?

Benny Goodman, aka the King of Swing, is one of the best-known clarinetists of all time. He was a pivotal figure in the development of jazz and swing music in the mid-20th century.

Who is the best clarinet player today?

Richard Stoltzman is the best classical clarinet player in the United States of America today. Due to his iconic playing style, he has performed with over 100 orchestras to date.

Who first played the clarinet?

Johann Christoph Denner, a Nuremberg instrument maker, was the first to play the clarinet at the start of the 18th century.

What band leader played clarinet?

The two band leaders who played clarinet were Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

Who is the famous clarinetist Shaw?

The famous clarinetist Shaw is Artie Shaw, an American jazz clarinetist, composer, and bandleader known for his big band era hits like “Begin the Beguine.”

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